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Only 5 hours drive from Adelaide and 8 km north of Pimba, is Woomera. The name ‘Woomera’ comes from the Aboriginal name for spear launcher. It is a flat piece of wood with a wooden peg at one end. A spear would be placed on the woomera and both spear and woomera is held in one hand, parallel to the line of sight. The woomera is then used to launch the spear.

Woomera Aircraft & Missile Park, Woomera, SA
Woomera Aircraft & Missile Park, Woomera, SA

A Brief History
Woomera was established in 1947 as a joint project with the British for testing and launching of experimental rockets and missiles. Later the range was the test and development centre for the European Launcher Development Organisation (ELDO), and the Europa series of rockets between 1964 and 1970. Two satellites were placed into orbit from Woomera, one of which, the WRESAT (Weapons Research Establishment Satellite), was designed and built in Australia by the Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO). Australia being the fourth country in the world to launch it’s own satellite from it’s own soil (after Russia, United State and France).

Between 1960 and 1972 NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) operated a deep space tracking station at nearby Island Lagoon (about 25 km south of Woomera), close to what was the Australian/US Joint Defence Facility Nurrungar (JDFN).

The testing range which extended across the Great Victorian Desert into Western Australia, encompassed some 270,000 square kilometres and is known as the Woomera Prohibited Area, permits are required from the Area Administrator Woomera to travel through the area, with the exception of the Stuart Highway and the Coober Pedy William Creek Road which are excluded.

Canberra – a twin engined comber/photo reconnaisance aircraft at the Aircraft and Missile Park, Woomera and Woomera Village was a prohibited area for visitors until 1982. It existed to service the ‘Range’, which is used by the Australian Defence Forces and other groups.

The village is now open to all, offering many attractions and services to visitors, although it is still administered by the Department of Defence, who also service the testing range. The range and joint facility at Nurrungar are prohibited areas.1

Founding of the Woomera Village memorial, Woomera, SA
Founding of the Woomera Village memorial, Woomera, SA
Founding of the Woomera Village memorial, Woomera, SA
Founding of the Woomera Village memorial, Woomera, SA

In November 1999 it was decided to establish a detention centre for illegal immigrants at Woomera. Known as the Woomera Immigration Reception and Processing Centre (IRPC), it was an Australian immigration detention facility located near the village of Woomera in South Australia. It was opened in a government response to an increase in unauthorised arrivals, which had exceeded the capacity of other detention facilities. Originally meant to hold 400 people, at its peak in April 2000 it had nearly 1,500 detainees. After ongoing public pressure in response to several well publicised riots from 2000, that included accusations of human rights abuses, child abuses, and capacity issues, the centre was closed in April 2003.

The site was handed back to the Australian Department of Defence, with the facility renamed “Camp Rapier” in 2004, supporting the Defence activities on the Woomera Test Range.2

Contact or drop into the visitor centre for more information:

Information can also be had from the visitor centre at Port Augusta

Woomera - Gateway to the Largest Test & Evaluation Range in the World
Woomera – Gateway to the Largest Test & Evaluation Range in the World
Woomera Attractions

Woomera Heritage Centre
• A must see for visitors that includes the Heritage Centre Museum and refreshment. As you enter the town, you are presented with the Missile Park, that include the a Canberra Bomber, a Meteor Jet, and the ‘Black Arrow’ rocket. The Woomera Heritage Museum looks at the history of the rocket range and the Woomera township. There is a scale model of the launching site, photographic display of once previously classified images.

The museum has a room dedicated to the Joint Defence Facility Nurrungar (JDFN). The former joint Australia/USA space satellite tracking station, which was located in the Nurrungar Prohibited Area , about 15 km south of Woomera. Videos are shown in this room on the history of JDFN, the progress of upcoming rocket launches, and a video from the Australian Space Research Industry (ASRI).

Lions Club of Woomera Aircraft & Missile Park
Lions Club of Woomera Aircraft & Missile Park

Heritage Museum and Missile Park
Displays a number of replicas and remnants of rockets etc.

— Petrel Supersonic Target Rocket • The Petrel Supersonic Target Rocket was developed by Bristol Aerojets in Britain to be used as a target during the development of the Royal Navy’s Seawolf surface-to-air missile. The petrel target service closed in August 1975 at the conclusion of the Seawolf evaluation trials.

— Blue Steel • Tested from 1956-1964. Air to ground missile. This missile was designed to be carried by British V Bombers. It could carry a conventional or nuclear war head. No missiles launched at Woomera had nuclear war heads. It was stowed underneath the bomber aircraft and released miles from the intended target. Its rocket motor was ignited some seconds after release.

Baker Observatory • Woomera Astronomy Group
View the heavens at night, like you never seen them before. By appointment only. The Woomera Astronomy Group was founded in 1994 by a small, enthusiastic group of local amateur astronomers. The friendly staff at the Woomera Heritage Centre will be pleased to assist you in booking a night at Baker Observatory.

Check out some of the photos taken from Baker Observatory by Darren Chase.

Trifid Nebula (2000 light years from earth) - "Baker Observatory" - Photographer © Darren Chase, Woomera
Trifid Nebula (2000 light years from earth) – “Baker Observatory” – Photographer © Darren Chase, Woomera

Woomera Village Memorial
Erected to commemorate the founding of the Woomera Village in November 1947, with the original survey mark placed adjacent to this point. Unveiled Australia Day 1967.

John Henry Davies Grave Site
Opposite the old ruins, there is a grave of a stockman. The headstone states: “Sacred to the memory of John Henry Davies, 12 January 1884, aged about 24 years. This stone is erected by his fellow bushman living at Mt Eba Station.” Davies is believed to have died of thirst and dysentery. His headstone was discovered by a couple of British soldiers searching for missile wreckage after a test launch in 1954.

Phillip Ponds Ruins • Arcoona Outstation
Near the site of the original contractors camp for the building of Woomera Village.

Breen Park
A place for the family, with lush lawns, shady trees, native birds, electric BBQ’s, playground and stage/soundshell.

Len Beadell Memorial
Situated in the centre of the main shopping centre and built in memory of the man who has been called ‘the Last of the True Australian Explorers’. Learn all about Len Beadell’s life story in the Heritage Centre.

Butement Square
Located in the centre of the township is Butement Square, a popular rest area for visitors passing through Woomera. The square includes a War Memorial and Memorial Plaque and a JDFN 25th Anniversary Plaque. There are shopping facilities opposite the park, as well as a fenced playground.

More information coming soon…

Woomera Theatre, Woomera, SA
Woomera Theatre, Woomera, SA

Footnote & References

  1. Woomera, South Australia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Woomera,_South_Australia (last visited June 21, 2022).
  2. Woomera Immigration Reception and Processing Centre, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Woomera_Immigration_Reception_and_Processing_Centre (last visited June 21, 2022)

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